HK to host Bledisloe Cup showdown
Australia and New Zealand to clash at Hong Kong Stadium in world first
The 2008 Bledisloe Cup will be played over four matches, three as part of the annual Tri-Nations series and the fourth at the Hong Kong Stadium on November 1.
It will be the first time the All Blacks will meet the Wallabies on neutral turf outside of the World Cup.
But the historic clash isn't simply a step to promote the game in Asia and help the International Rugby Board promote the game globally. The Trans-Tasman rivals said it was their first move towards tapping into the vast consumer markets in the region.
'This match will be our gateway to Asia,' said a frank Steve Tew, New Zealand Rugby Union's chief executive officer. 'We live in the Asia-Pacific region and our economy and commercial future lies in Asia. This is the beginning of our push into the big Asian markets.'
His counterpart, John O'Neill, was equally blunt. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive said: 'This is not just altruistic. It is in our commercial interests to grow the game in Asia. We want to engage Asia in rugby diplomacy as the rewards that can be generated in this part of the world are extremely significant.'
While the Hong Kong game is a one-off encounter, both Tew and O'Neill did not discount more off-shore meetings between the two countries, citing Japan as a possible destination.
'There is no reason why it can't be held in other places in Asia. Tokyo is a possibility,' said O'Neill. 'Japan is the rugby powerhouse in Asia.'
O'Neill travels to Japan today for talks with rugby officials on how the ARU can help further develop the game.
'Hong Kong had more of an appetite to host the first off-shore meeting between the Wallabies and the All Blacks. May be now, the Japanese might look at it, and say 'hey this can work',' said O'Neill.
After months of negotiations, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union were finally able to unveil details of the first-ever test match between two major rugby nations in this city. There are also plans to have a curtain-raiser featuring the Hong Kong national team.
'This, we hope, is only the beginning,' said Allan Payne, HKRFU executive director. 'We hope to bring this kind of a game to Hong Kong on an annual basis.'
The All Blacks are the holders of the Bledisloe Cup - which was in Hong Kong yesterday - and will start as favourites when the series gets under way in July. Australia will host two matches - July 26 in Sydney and September 13 in Brisbane - while New Zealand will host one game in Auckland on August 2.
The November 1 encounter at the 40,000-seater Hong Kong Stadium could be the decider, if Australia arrives with a 2-1 lead.
'If the series is shared 2-2, New Zealand, as the holders, will keep the Bledisloe Cup,' O'Neill said. 'Hopefully, the Hong Kong game will be the decider.'
O'Neill conceded that there could be criticism from fans back in Australia and New Zealand who would be unhappy to see the Bledisloe Cup - on offer since 1931 - played overseas.
'There will be some questions asked at home why we are putting the trophy on the line at the fourth game. But we had to make sure the match had integrity and the only way to do this was to make it part of the Bledisloe Cup,' O'Neill said.
'This will be a genuine match, not an exhibition match. This will be a full-blooded Bledisloe Cup encounter,' he added.
Tickets will be priced at HK$1,080, HK$980 and HK$880. They will go on sale for Hong Kong residents in mid-June. The public (Hong Kong ID card holders) will be able to purchase tickets via the internet or from a ticketing agency. Hospitality packages will also be available later this month. Members of rugby clubs will also be able to buy tickets in the next few weeks. Further information will be available on www.hkrugby.com.
A proud symbol of Trans-Tasman rivalry
1 The two countries have played rugby against each other since 1903. The Bledisloe Cup was introduced in the early 1930s and New Zealand has won it 34 times to Australia's 12
2 The cup is named after a former governor-general of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe, who held the post from 1930-1935. It weighs 21.6 kg (the cup is 9kg and base is 12.6kg)
3 Bledisloe Cup games have been responsible for the two biggest crowds in the history of world rugby - 109,874 for the 'Match of the Century' at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney in 2000, and 107,042 at the same venue the previous year
4 Hong Kong will be the first neutral venue for a Bledisloe Cup match. The All Blacks and Wallabies have only played against each other once outside of New Zealand or Australia - in a semi-final of the 1991 World Cup
5 The cup is valued at about A$220,000 (HK$1.6 million). The silver in the cup alone is valued at A$126,000. But its real value to rugby followers in both countries is beyond measure